The Initial Gnomedex Decompression

I’m only beginning to sift through the Gnomedex information inside and outside of my own communication spheres – and it’s beyond overwhelming. Feedback has been quite constructive, and I was definitely sensing an increasing amount of disparate frustration with random elements across our conference’s universe. It boils down to both Ponzi and myself doing our best to cater to 375 special interest groups – which is both our blessing and our ongoing challenge. Is Gnomedex really a “conference” anymore?

We have attendees that range from 17 to 67, male and female (still largely male, but the M2F ratio was much better this year), entrepreneur to developer to enthusiast to marketer to influencer to…? With so many perspectives and ideas situated in the same space, how is it possible to make sense of what happens anywhere and everywhere during any kind of official gathering?

Any given on-stage session may have been equally panned and praised by the same audience – while the next session was overwhelmingly accepted. This reality was likely a “meatspace mirror” of our generally-accepted, unfiltered presence in the blogosphere itself. Some people loathed the open discussion format of Gnomedex 6.0, vowing never to return… so we skewed traditional for Gnomedex 7.0, and new Gnomedexers wished we had more of an open discussion format.

Are you seeing our challenge yet? 🙂

Gnomedex is just about as close to a un-virtual blogosphere as I’ve ever seen it.

I believe the functionality of Twitter at Gnomedex had an overwhelmingly negative impact, both on-site and after the event. It provided an immediate emotional outlet for people who – in some cases – shot first and asked questions later. That’s the nature of “the beast.” Whereas some Gnomedexers took notes “offline” with a plan to review them long after emotion has passed, countless others were equally compelled to share their thoughts immediately (with absolutely no self-editing or time for further introspection some of these subjects quite possibly deserved).

I have previously stated my position on, and partial disdain for, the much ballyhooed “echo chamber” – which is largely why I steered clear from officially giving certain personalities the stage. These people are omnipresent, and would likely shape the (regardless). I love having everybody there – so that’s not the purported issue.

Some people loved Cali and Neil, despite their genuine nervousness (which was likely exacerbated after seeing just how “raw” the Gnomedex audience could be). The story, itself, was uplifting to those people who aspired to one day quit their day job and find fame and fortune online somehow – and it was also an interesting juxtaposition of roles, with Neil having a lot more personality than I believed currently perceived by their regular audience. Unfortunately, I was sensing a lot of “I could do this presentation better than them” reactions – which is a challenge when delivering content to any group of top-notch bloggers, most of whom COULD do that presentation blindfolded.

Darren Barefoot’s “Stacies” session was more grounded in practical examples of how we can deal with an ever-transforming global (and virtual) economic infrastructure, while Michael Linton’s presentation on Open Money was a bit less concrete. Both had roots in technology and community, but it seems that a large part of the Gnomedex audience wanted less high-level assertions. Asking Michael to sum up his studies and experience in :45 was an impossible task, and asking him to (likewise) summarize the concept in a simple sentence or two is tantamount to a developer trying to put a finer point on the complexities of any scripting language. “Sound bytes” do not do justice to incredible concepts – and in an age where microblogging is the norm, extended critical thinking often takes a backseat to incomplete satiation.

Allow me to draw corollaries from 2001 and 2003?

At the first Gnomedex conference, I remember watching Scoble stand on stage and tell everyone about this magical new thing called “blogging.” Nobody understood it, and nobody knew what it could do for them or the world around them. Two years later, I was ranting and raving about RSS – and a few people thought I was absolutely nuts, predicting radical publishing trends and leading people to learn more about something there was virtually no documentation on.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the message is lost with the messenger(s).

Sometimes, you’re two steps ahead of the curve – a “crackpot” sentiment echoed in the Gnomedex captone presentation (which, sadly, lacked actual prototypes as potentially promised by the presenter). Dave Winer with OPML, Tantek Celik with Microformats, the list goes on and on. Now, I’m not saying that we’re all crackpots – but what do you think people outside the echo chamber think of our petty squabbles and discussions? These “outsiders” are the same people who were intimidated by strong voices at last year’s Gnomedex – and likely the same people who watched the on-site emotion unfold this year from afar (thanks to the live stream, Twitter, blogs, etc.).

How does one attract the blogosphere’s thought leaders without hammering through the topics that are (quite frankly) already yesterday’s news – or completely irrelevant to people who don’t live and die by whatever is on TechMeme or its vertical equivalent? How does one equally attract those who are striving to become thought leaders, or those who love following those thought leaders?

I think we could be on the cusp of transforming the annual Gnomedex event into something with broader-reaching (and local) applications throughout the year. That may mean adding a dedicated person as an event / logistics coordinator, setting the agenda to be half as dense, and extending the “conference” another day to bring our energy outside the conference center. It also means establishing an ongoing sponsorship model with the brand, a point upon which I will expand in a not-too-distant future entry.

Every Gnomedexer peer review has been valid and constructed with clean conscience, as far as I can tell. Of course, tracking the volume of feedback has been extremely difficult for me to do (even with all these “great” tools at my disposal). I need an open, human-edited assembly of links – aided by people with enough passion and perseverance to be as complete as possible.

My thoughts on these matters are far from finished, but I can tell you that Gnomedex (once again) transformed my personal and professional perspectives in a positive way. Like many other Gnomedexers, I’m feeling re-energized with the event in recent memory. This is the enigma of our collective experience – so much intelligence, so many opinions, so many ideas, so many backgrounds. How can one leave this event not feeling drained?

And how can one effectively continue to remove the draining elements from an event which still continues to provide introspection and professional growth to its most active participants?

You always get out of it whatever you put into it – seldom more, seldom less.